Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants

These are a very curious group of plants loved by people of all ages. 

Over 630 species exist, but only a few are propagated.  Carnivorous plants have adapted to grow in thin and nutrient deficient soil.  Unlike most plants that get their nitrogen from the soil, carnivorous plants absorb nitrogen from their prey.  Their active growing season is in the spring and summer.  It's normal for your carnivorous plant not to drink much or grow much during its dormant winter period.  There are 6 main types of carnivorous plants and we usually carry 3 of the most popular: pitfall traps (pitcher plants), flypaper traps (butterworts and sundews), and snap traps (Venus fly traps). 

Growing Tips:


An east or west-facing window is an excellent place. They need a few hours of direct sunlight to help bring out their colours. A south-facing window will usually create too much heat for the plants and a north-facing window will result in lanky growth. In a terrarium you could use florescent grow lights: 16 hours a day during the spring and summer and 10 hours per day in the fall and winter.


It is best to use distilled, reverse osmosis, or rainwater to water your carnivorous plants. You also want to maintain a very humid environment around the plant. You can do this by growing your carnivorous plant in a terrarium, misting frequently, or using the tray method. The tray method is using a shallow container filled with fir bark (orchid bark) or gravel and covered with distilled water. Place your carnivorous plant on the bark or gravel and it will appreciate all of the added humidity. Just remember to keep some water in the tray at all times.


The basic carnivorous plant mix is 50% sphagnum moss, 25% washed sand (play sand), and 25% perlite. This mixture retains a lot of moisture, but still allows ample air to the roots. Putting some live moss on top of your container helps to recreate their natural environment and retains moisture too. Carnivorous plants don't need to be transplanted until the moss starts to degrade. 

Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia)

Cattleya orchids have the large flowers that are often used for corsages.

Pitcher plants, also known as a trumpet pitcher, are hardy to North America. One variety, Sarracenia purpurea, can be found in eastern Canada and is the provincial flower of Newfoundland. Pitcher plants come in a huge variety of shapes and colours. In fact, most pitcher plants change to a reddish hue to attract more insects.

The plant looks just like a flower and emits an attractive smell to lure its prey. The pitcher plant also secretes a wetting agent that wets the fly's wings and prevents it from flying. The shape of the plant is also beneficial because a fly can't move straight up like a helicopter, so the steep walls trap it. Small hairs also force the insect towards the bottom of the pitcher where an enzyme is waiting to digest it. The lower leaves of the plant rest on the ground and secrete a sweet substance. Ants are attracted to this and follow the sweet trail right into the bottom of the pitcher.

A 2:1 mix of sand and peat moss is a good soil mix. You could also add some perlite to prevent compacting.  The plants all require winter dormancy so temperatures dipping below freezing for short periods will not harm them. Keep the soil just damp through winter dormancy and increase their water as new growth starts in the spring. You can leave them sitting in water during the summer months. Direct sun will bring out their best colours and they have a voracious appetite for insects.

Butterwort (Pinguicula)

Butterworts grow all over the world and can be found in Canada as well.

It is a low-growing rosette of wide leaves with beautiful flowers. The leaves produce a sticky mucilage that attracts and captures small insects. Once the insect is trapped, the leaf either slowly rolls over its prey or collapses into a bowl shape to digest. The leaf will unroll after the insect has been digested. 

This type of carnivorous plant is quite easy to grow. It prefers bright indirect light and in fact the more light you provide, the more colourful it will become. There are tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate types. Although the plants can tolerate temperatures around 0C, it’s best to keep them at room temperature. Water them with distilled or filtered water. Keep them moist, but don't allow them to sit in water. Feeding them isn’t a necessity as the plants capture small gnats and other insects. If the plants aren’t able to catch insects, it's beneficial to sprinkle a few ant-sized ones on a leaf a few times a year.

To repot, use a 50% sand and 50% peat moss mix or 2 parts peat moss to 1 part perlite. A 4”-6” pot should be large enough. Placing the pot on a tray filled with bark or gravel and topped up with water will keep the butterwort in a humid environment. Pale limp growth indicates more light is needed and a healthy plant will have a sparkle and colour to its leaves.

Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea)

This is probably the most famous of all carnivorous plants.

It has trigger hairs on the surface and needs 2 of them to be touched before it closes. This prevents a raindrop from triggering the trap to close. This type of “snap trap” can only close 3-4 times before it turns black and dies. Black traps can be cut off, but it takes a while for a new trap to grow. Its native habitat is North and South Carolina making it a temperate plant that experiences a big change in seasons. That means your Venus Fly Trap is going to need a cool dormant period from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day.

Venus Fly Traps like to live in a bog, so that means wet roots, high humidity, and 6-8 hours of full sun (or 10 hours of artificial lighting). Water your plant with distilled or filtered water. This type of carnivorous plant is occasionally flooded in its natural habitat so it doesn’t mind sitting in water all the time. Just before the plant goes dormant, allow the soil to dry out a bit (damp not sopping wet) and place it in a cool dark area. A north-facing window in the basement would be an excellent place. 

Every couple of years your Venus Fly Trap should be transplanted. Use a mixture of 50% sphagnum moss, 25% washed (playground) sand, and 25% perlite. It’s best to do this in the spring. When the plant is mature, it may start to flower. This takes a lot of energy away from the plant, so it’s best to just cut the flower off. You don’t have to feed your plant to keep it alive, but a few bugs per month will improve the plant’s general health and trap size.

Sundew (Drosera)

This type of carnivorous plant can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

They’re often found in wet and nutrient poor environments. Sundews are different from other “flypaper trap” types because they have long mobile tentacles on their leaves that move easily. These tentacles secrete a small drop of sticky mucilage or “dew” that attracts insects. The insects get caught in this dew and the tentacles wrap around them. Digestive enzymes are then secreted to kill their prey.

Most sundews are easy to grow.  They need bright light to be colourful. There are tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate types of sundews.  Although they can tolerate temperatures around 0C, they grow best at room temperature.  Water them with distilled or filtered water. Keep them moist, but don’t allow them to sit in water. Feeding them isn’t a necessity as sundews capture small gnats and other insects. If the plants can’t catch any insects, it’s beneficial to sprinkle a few ant-sized insects on a leaf a few times a year.

To repot, use a 50% sand and 50% peat moss mix or 2 parts peat moss to 1 part perlite. A 4”-6” plastic pot should be large enough. Placing the pot on a tray filled with bark or gravel and topped up with water will keep the sundew in a humid environment. Pale limp growth indicates more light is needed and a healthy plant will have bright red tentacles.

Sun Pitcher/Marsh Pitcher (Heliamphora)

These carnivorous plants come from Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana.

This is not your usual kind of pitcher plant. They are colourful and look like a flower-like other pitcher plants-but they lack a lid.  Instead they have a spoon-like structure that secretes a sweet substance to lure their prey. Secondly, most of them use bacteria to kill their prey instead of digestive enzymes. Thirdly, they are the only type of pitcher plant to have a slit in the side allowing excess rainwater to drain away.

This is a very rare form of pitcher plant and is often grown under fluorescent light in a terrarium. Like other carnivorous plants, you need to use distilled or filtered water. This type of pitcher plant can survive a wide range in temperatures, but it prefers to be 10C cooler at night than during the day. Marsh pitcher plants will have brighter colours if grown in natural sunlight fading to green under artificial light. Keeping plants at a high humidity level is one secret to success.

A good soil mix is a combination of washed sand (play sand), orchid bark, sphagnum moss, peat moss, and perlite. The key is to imitate the loose soil that plants grow in naturally.  A deep pot is best, as the roots grow quite deep. You want to make sure that the plant is sitting in a moist environment, but not sitting in a lot of water. All these requirements make marsh pitcher plants perfect for terrariums.

Nepenthes Viking Asian Pitcher Plant
Pinguicula Butterwort
Pinguicula gigantea Butterwort
Pinguicula weser Butterwort
Sarracenia catesbaei
Sarracenia Judith Hindle
Drosera ordensis Petiolaris complex Sundew
Drosers filiformis Thread Leaf Sundew
Nepenthes rafflesiana Tropical Pitcher Plant